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Amherst residents blast makeup of citizens board as pro-development

Amherst residents Monday took the Town Board to task over the makeup of a citizen board to assist the town planning department with making future proposed developments fit better into neighborhoods.

Some residents at the meeting believe the committee is weighted toward those who are friendly toward development.

“The plan that really is underway is insidious in that the ultimate objective of it is to try to short-circuit the process that we have, favorable as it is to the developers,” said Debra Norton, a 14-year member of the town Planning Board, who has often been the lone no vote on various developments.

The Project Working Committee was established by the Town Board at its Feb. 8 meeting to offer input in the town’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code Revision Project. It was intended to solicit input from homeowners, business people and town officials, following backlash over developments like the six-story Hyatt Place hotel on Main Street.

Norton chided the Democratic controlled Town Board for giving the planning department the authority to appoint the committee members.

“You three members who are now the Democratic majority passed over and handed the key to the very people, the very administration, that has gotten the residents into the situation that we’re in,” Norton said.

She and other residents complained about the appointment of former Councilwoman Jane Woodward as a homeowner representative on the committee, characterizing Woodward as very pro-developer during her time on the Town Board.

They also balked at the appointment of the husband of former Councilwoman Shelly Schratz as a small-business representative. Assistant Planning Director Gary Black said that appointment went instead to another small-business owner.

“There is no more important endeavor to be undertaken by the town over the next two years, and it is off to an inauspicious start,” said resident Michelle Marconi of Livingston Parkway.